Locke beats the Braves, fans six; makes 100th start

PITTSBURGH — Left-hander Jeff Locke picked up his second straight win when the Pittsburgh Pirates won 5-4 at Arizona on Wednesday night. 

Locke, a 2007 graduate of Kennett High, threw 6 1/3 innings, allowing four runs and two homers for his first career victory against the Diamondbacks. He walked one and struck out one.

"In my eyes, it's not a very good performance by me," Locke said. "Mistakes were made, mistakes that we're not supposed to make in those situations, but the offense hung tight all night. We battled back."

But he kept the game close enough for the lineup to stage a four-run rally in the fifth. John Jaso and Andrew McCutchen singled, Gregory Polanco lined an RBI double to right field and Starling Marte pulled the Bucs within one on a run-scoring groundout. Up came David Freese, who crushed the go-ahead shot into the Pittsburgh bullpen at 451 feet,

"It's a matter of 'when' with those guys," Locke said. "They're playing really well right now. We just want to keep it rolling as long as we can."

This was Locke's 100th career start and the 51st at PNC Park, where he owns a 16-13 record and the Pirates have gone 31-20 behind him.

Prior to taming the Diamondbacks, Locke threw seven strong innings, Polanco led another complete performance by the Pirates' lineup and the Bucs beat the Braves, 8-2, on May 19 to clinch a victory in their four-game series at PNC Park.

Forty-five games into the season, the Pirates are 26-19. It's the third time since 1993 that Pittsburgh reached the quarter pole with a winning record, having last done so in 2013 (23-17) and 1997 (21-19).

Locke bounced back from a rough start against the Cubs and worked seven full innings for the second time in his last four starts, holding the Braves to two runs on six hits while striking out six. Unlike Wednesday night, Pittsburgh's bats backed up their starter, pounding out eight runs on 11 hits — including three from leadoff man Jaso and Jordy Mercer and two from Polanco.

"That's the part that feels good, able to eat up some innings for the guys," Locke said. "(Catcher Chris Stewart) and I were on the same page the whole time. ... Had a good idea what we wanted to do, and he's smart back there."

— Courtesy Pittsburgh Pirates

 

Sares competes in April strongman and powerlifting events

CONWAY — North Conway's Ted Sares continues to raise the bar literally and figuratively in the sport of weightlifting and strongman competitions.

Sares participated in a sanctioned strongman event in Boston on April 16 and secured a second place trophy for his performance in the Buffalo Squat and Hex Bar Deadlift. First place in all five of the lifts went to the legendary "Old Man" Gene Richards of Lynn, Mass.

A buffalo squat, according to Sares, "is where you use a 100 pound bar and then do half-squats starting from a middle position. It's a brutal lift as the weight is increased considerably between each successful lift. I did 250 pounds and am still feeling it."

An elector for inductees into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF), Sares, a member of Ring 4 (New England) and its boxing hall of fame and is also an active member of Ring 10 (New York), has just been named a member of the editorial staff for The Sweet Science, which is widely regarded as the best source for boxing news, boxing fights and matches.

On April 30, a slimmed-down Sares competed in the Elite Powerlifting Federation Nationals in Johnston, R.I. and won his third consecutive Grand Masters championship in the 75-79 age brackets and in the process, set a new national record for the squat.

After the squat, however, the soon-to-be 79-year-old lifter found himself in a tense situation when he missed his first two bench press attempts (one more miss and he would have been eliminated from the meet).

"It's called 'bombing out' and it would have meant that the costs of travel, lodging, meals, entry fee, the squat record, etc, would all have been for naught," Sares said.

This happened to him in Canada last year and he was not about to let it happen again as he made his third lift with the crowd loudly behind him.

"It's that kind of lifting through pressure that makes the sport so challenging and competitive," Sares said.

Sares will now train with Angel Williams until August, when he hopes to compete in Moultonborough. He then lifts in Fair Haven, Vt. in September, Laconia in October, and a return to Smithfield, R.I. in November

It's this kind of schedule that makes Sares one of the oldest active powerlifters in the world.

Sares added that next year when he competes as an octogenarian, he hopes to set many records in full power events throughout the country.

 

Locke impressess in third spring outing

LAKELAND, Fla. — Left-hander Jeff Locke looked very sharp Saturday afternoon against a star-studded Detroit Tigers lineup at Joker Marchant Stadium. In four innings, he allowed two hits, a walk and two runs. He retired 10 straight batters, at one point, and struck out five. Both runs were earned, but the first came on Chris Stewart's throwing error.

"Felt really good today," Locke said. "We've been working really hard between starts. Since the new year with Ray [Searage], just trying to hammer this new delivery down. The results are starting to come to fruition a little bit."

Locke mixed pitches well and was pleased with his arm speed, which stayed more consistent on off-speed pitches. He said that led to getting swings and misses at pitches batters used to identify early and lay off of. And this was a heck of a lineup to face, too: Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez are the first five names on the card.

"There's probably not a whole lot of lineups out there that are put together like that one," Locke said.

The big blast was J.D. Martinez's solo homer with two outs in the fourth. Locke hoped it would be his last hitter, but the batter smoked a pretty good pitch over the left-center field fence.

"It definitely wasn't no cookie," Locke said. "It might've looked like one to him, but I was trying to come in with a two-seamer there and it just caught a little too much of the plate. He's a great hitter. That's what he gets paid to do is crush fastballs."

 

Locke tosses six scoreless innings in Rockies win

By Stephen J. Nesbitt

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

DENVER, Colo. — When the long ball didn't fly on a brisk Monday night at Coors Field, the Colorado Rockies resorted to small ball. But their bunts and bloops and infield hits could not crack Pirates left-hander Jeff Locke, who gave the rowdy Rockies fits and fury in the batter's box.

Locke waited out a half-hour rain delay and two Rockies ejections to throw six scoreless innings, and Matt Joyce, filling in for Andrew McCutchen, clubbed a three-run home run to cap a four-run seventh as the Pirates pulled away for a 6-1 win in the opener of a four-game series in Denver.

Standing at an elevation of roughly 5,200 feet, Locke (1-2) found he had a friend in mile-high places in home-plate umpire Lance Barrett. Once Locke's heaters nibbled at the corners for strikes, he started straying below the knees and wide of the zone. Barrett's fists pumped like pistons as he punched out hitters.

Of Locke's eight strikeouts — his most since June 17 last year — five were on called strike threes.

"A few of the calls were generous," Locke said. "Some of the calls could probably go either way. When they go your way, you just let them throw the ball around until it gets back to you. We did a good job attacking. I walked (Trevor) Story twice. Not exactly a guy you want to put on base with the guys coming up behind him. But maybe just trying to be too fine, and maybe giving him too much credit, too. I think that's what we do a lot of the time, is give the hitters a little too much credit instead of just attacking."

Barrett would brook no complaints. Rockies manager Walt Weiss was ejected in the fourth for arguing a strike-three call. And after Ryan Raburn struck out looking in the sixth on a fastball that zipped past his shins, he spun to face Barrett and yapped until he too was tossed.

Before the first pitch at Coors Field, a stadium in which offensive numbers escalate, Locke and catcher Francisco Cervelli crafted a game plan to keep pitches down. Locke chose to test the theory the Rockies hitters tended to chase north and south, east and west.

Locke mixed pitches often and aimed low, he said, because "they've never hit a ground ball out of here before." Despite sitting through a half-hour rain delay in the second, the left-hander scattered five hits and two walks and threw 106 pitches, his highest pitch count in his past 35 starts.

"He got in such a strong, aggressive rhythm after the second inning," manger Clint Hurdle said. "Fastball command, the intent, the conviction, the execution. Used the changeup in offensive counts, sprinkled in some curveballs. He pitched very, very effectively, even in some deep counts, when it came go time he made pitches. Eight punchouts, that was good to see. And the pitch efficiency after the second. Big start for him. Big for us, good for him."

Locke's biggest scare was when cleanup hitter Nolan Arenado led off the sixth and rode a fly ball out to the warning track in center field, where Starling Marte hauled it in.

"That was my mulligan right there," Locke said. "I knew when I got away with that, I had to find a way to finish the inning. I got off the hook with that."

 

Locke makes the rotation for the Pirates

By Bill Brink
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

BRADENTON, Fla. — Not even when Jeff Locke passed a group of reporters as he walked off the field at Pirate City Tuesday did it occur to him why they might want to talk to him. Only after he threw another inning in the batting cage did he hear the news.

Asked when and how he heard he had earned a spot in the starting rotation, Locke said, "You just told me."

Locke will be one of the Pirates' five starters, general manager Neal Huntington said Tuesday, joining Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole and Jon Niese and giving the Pirates three lefties in the rotation. The team must choose between Ryan Vogelsong and Juan Nicasio for the final spot; the other will go to the bullpen.

In 2015, Locke tied a career high with 30 starts, but pitched inconsistently and had a 4.49 ERA. He spent this spring perfecting a new delivery, which involves eliminating the turn toward first base and taking his hands over his head.

"I worked really hard this offseason with (pitching coach) Ray (Searage)," Locke said. "I know you can work as hard as you want in the offseason. You don't play games in the offseason. It doesn't count in the offseason."

Locke, a 2006 Kennett High graduate, has allowed 14 runs and 20 hits in 19 spring training innings.

"You can say, well, there's been a lot of mixed results in spring training, too," he said. "People are always going to argue that, no matter what you do. But if you can find the positive out of things, like I always tell you guys, and find a way to take the good and keep moving forward, that's what we continue to do."

Huntington said Locke's past performance, which includes an All-Star first half in 2013 and a 3.91 ERA in 21 starts in '14, factored into the decision and that the team considers much more than spring training results.

"I know he's an easy punching bag in certain circles, but Jeff's been a very solid major league pitcher for us and we think there's more to come, especially as he starts to use his arm side more," Huntington said. "It's going to open up the changeup better. It's going to open up the inner half. He's made some quality adjustments with that this spring and thrown some great pitches."

Nicasio has pitched 15 scoreless innings this spring and struck out 24 batters. Vogelsong has allowed 10 runs, nine earned, with four walks and four strikeouts in 13⅓ innings. Whoever goes to the bullpen will join Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Arquimedes Caminero and Neftali Feliz.

The Pirates will need two additional relievers because it is "very likely," Huntington said, that righty Jared Hughes will begin the season on the disabled list because of a strained left lat muscle in his back. One spot could go to non-roster lefty Cory Luebke, who has an opt-out in his contract soon.

"If he's not going to make the club, there's a sequence of events that take place," Huntington said of Luebke's opt-out. "It's a little bit convoluted, but we'll have to make a decision here in the coming days."

Lefties Kyle Lobstein and Jim Fuller and righties Jorge Rondon and A.J. Schugel remain in camp and are possibilities for a bullpen role. Locke no longer is, and he was relieved.

"You want to be in the rotation, you feel you should be in the rotation," he said. "If you're not in there, it's not your decision, you've got to respect that, whatever direction you take. You want that opportunity. You can't ever give up on yourself. You've always got to believe that you're as good as anybody."

Bill Brink: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Twitter @BrinkPG.